Seagulls. Sorry, but there is no such thing. Gulls are found in the desert, high mountains, northern Canada in the spruce forests – so how could that bird be a SEAgull? Got it? Now –onward. Our most common GULL in the Salish Sea is the glaucous-winged gull, a big, brash and aggressive yeller that will take a French fry bag right off your table at Iver’s. Glaucous means bluish-gray, a good description of these pale-looking gulls. But in the fall, another gull arrives from its breeding grounds in the boreal spruce forests of Canada, Bonaparte’s gull. They’ve spent their summers far to the north, first courting along the shores of fresh water lakes and then building nests of twigs and moss on branches of short spruce trees. In early autumn after raising gull families, they head south as winter closes in. Many come to the Salish Sea.
This is one of the smallest gulls in North America, just a little over 13 inches long and weighing in at less than half a pound. Compared with the locals that measure in at 27 inches long and almost 4 pounds, they’re like little half-sized miniatures. They fly like ballerinas, gracefully turning and dipping, almost flamboyant in their aerial work and can easily be mistaken for a tern. Look for them along tidal rips and shallow shorelines where they plunge-dive for forage fish – unlike our big local gulls that couldn’t dive if their lives depended on it. Their dark heads lighten to white in winter except for a small dark ear patch, and then come Spring their heads darken again, the legs and feet brighten, and they head north for another summer in the spruce.
Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.